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Study Resources :: Intros to the Bible :: The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke


The Gospel according to Luke exhibits several differences from the other Synoptic Gospels. For instance, Luke is the only Gospel to have a sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. These two books are often referred to as a single unit called Luke-Acts. Another difference between Luke and the other Synoptics is the prologue (1:1-4). Luke's prologue can also be called an exordium, which is a literary device that was also used by other Greek writers. There is a striking similarity between the structure of Josephus' Against Apion and Luke-Acts. [1] Not only does the prologue enable readers to better understand the purpose of the Gospel, but it also makes the destination clear. Unfortunately, and in a similar fashion to the other Synoptics, the author does not directly identify himself within the text. On the other hand there is enough internal and external evidence to conclude that it was written by Luke the physician. Because the book of Acts is the sequel to Luke, it should be considered when trying to define the author. In certain sections of Acts, the author uses the first person plural in the narrative (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-8; 27:1-28:16). These are usually referred to as the we-sections and would indicate that the author of Acts accompanied Paul at these times. Luke is the only one that would fit into this mold according to Paul's epistles. Externally, even the earliest manuscripts support the title "According to Luke" (KATA LOUKAN). [2] Much of early church tradition also believed that Luke wrote this Gospel. [3]

The name Luke is only mentioned three times in the New Testament. From these three occurrences, it is evident that Luke was a physician (Col 4:14) and a companion of Paul (2 Tim 4:11; Philem 1:24). It is more than likely that Luke was a Gentile, but he was not necessarily a Greek. It also seems as if Luke had some degree of association with Judaism because of his knowledge of the Septuagint (LXX)-the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Not only did Luke compose the longest Gospel, but he also wrote more than any other New Testament writer. This is remarkable considering the amount of attention he gets in comparison to John and Paul.

Date and Location of Composition

The Gospel according to Luke was probably the last Synoptic Gospel to be written. [4] Since Luke precedes Acts, it is essential to date Acts before a date for Luke can be determined. The abrupt ending of Acts may be the single most important factor in deriving a date. Luke leaves the reader with Paul being in Rome and waiting to present his case before Caesar. The best explanation for this is that Acts was finished before he Paul's final outcome was known. This would place Acts in the early Sixties with the Gospel of Luke being written in the late Fifties or early Sixties.

Other factors that support an early date are the uncertainty of where Christianity fits in amongst the religions of the Roman Empire, Luke-Acts does not mention the destruction of Jerusalem, and the uncertainty of Jew-Gentile relations at the same level as in Paul's epistles. [5]

Regarding its location, it is generally agreed that Luke-Acts was not written in Palestine. Other suggestions have included Caesarea, Achaia, Decapolis, Asia Minor, and Rome. [6]

Audience and Purpose

Both the purpose of the Gospel and its audience can be found in the prologue (1:1-4). Luke first mentions that many others before him have made an account of the things that have been fulfilled as they were handed down from the first generation. He also says that he cautiously examined everything from the beginning and this led him to write an organized account to Theophilus so that he might know the certainty of what he has been taught. It is obvious that Luke wrote to Theophilus, but who was Theophilus? There have been many theories trying to answer this question. First of all, the name Theophilus means, "lover of God," or "friend of God." It is unclear whether he was already a Christian, or if he was considering becoming one. Luke (1:3) refers to Theophilus using the words "most excellent" (kratistoV). Since this seems to refer to nobility, most of the theories on Theophilus state that he was either a government official or an influential citizen. A widely accepted theory is that Theophilus was Luke's patron and helped him to publish Luke-Acts.

Luke's purpose in writing the Gospel has also suffered debate. Some suggest that Luke set out to make a case for Christianity as not being a threat to the Roman Empire. Others make the proposition that Luke-Acts was written to reassure those questioning Jesus' second coming because of its delay. Many believe that Luke was not writing to Theophilus exclusively, but that the two-volume work was intended to be distributed for ecclesiastical purposes. There is also the view, which seems to be growing in popularity, that Luke-Acts was specifically designed to aid Paul in his trial before Caesar. [7]

Theology and Themes

Luke is often viewed as the historian of the apostolic age, yet many do not fully recognize him as a theologian as well. [8] The author develops many themes in his Gospel. One of the most notable themes is of Redemption History [9] by which he views the world in three major time periods. First, the time of the "Law and the Prophets" was in effect until John the Baptist (16:16a). After that came the time period of Jesus, when "the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached" (16:16b). The last time period begins after the ascension of Christ and continues until his return. This is the period of the church.

The idea of salvation is also prevalent in Luke's Gospel. The words "salvation/deliverance" (swthria) and "salvation/saving power" (swthrion) are used by Luke, but are not found in Matthew and Mark. [10] Not only is the theme of salvation evident, but Luke also demonstrates Jesus as being sympathetic towards Samaritans and Gentiles (e.g. Good Samaritan 10:30-37; Centurion 7:2-10, see also 2:32).

Other issues such as peace, [11] eschatology, early catholicism, the plan of God, emphases on individuals, importance of women, children, the poor, the disreputable, the passion, prayer, and praise are also a part of Luke's theology. [12]

Literary Style and Structure

Along with the Epistle to the Hebrews, Luke-Acts is of the best Greek in the New Testament. The exordium (1:1-4), which demonstrates a pure Lukan style, is often looked at as more sophisticated and excellent a portion of Greek than of any other New Testament writing. On the other hand, there are parts of Luke's Gospel where he decides to follow some of the Hebraisms of Mark and of the LXX. Regarding this, Ellis said that Luke 1-2 and Acts 1-12 contain "a pervasive Semitic colouring." [13]

The structure of Luke's Gospel begins with the exordium (1:1-4), followed by the births of John the Baptist and Jesus (1:3-2:52). Luke then covers John's ministry and the preparation of Jesus' ministry (3:1-4:13). He then gives account of Jesus' Galilean ministry (4:14-9:50), and his journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). Jesus' time in Jerusalem (19:28-24:53) can be divided up into his ministry (19:28-21:38), the passion (22:1-23:56), and his resurrection and ascension (24:1-53).


[1] Against Apion 1.1; 2.1
[2] Cf. P75 ca. AD 175-225
[3] Irenaeus Adversus Haereses 3.1.1, Tertullian Adversus Marcionem 4.2, Clement of Alexandria Stromateis 1.21, even the heretic Marcion et al.
[4] See The Synoptic Problem and Q.
[5] Darrel L. Bock. 'Gospel of Luke' in Joel B. Green, et al Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992) p 499.
[6] For identifications with the various viewpoints see Werner Georg Kümmel. Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, English Translation of the 17th Edition, 1975) p. 151.
[7] See John W. Mauck. Paul on Trial. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
[8] See Craig A. Evans. Luke (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publisher, Inc., 1990) p. 1
[9] This is also called Salvation History.
[10] swthriaV is found in most of the MSS that support the highly questionable Shorter Ending of Mark.
[11] Peace (eirhnh) is used 14 times, which is more than any other New Testament book.
[12] See Leon Morris. Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988) pp. 40-51
[13] E. Earle Ellis. The Gospel of Luke (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1974) p. 3

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